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Ritzy red riviera
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 19 - 06 - 2008


By Lubna Abdel-Aziz
A primal call from the depths of the ancient waters of a sea, reflecting the reddish hue of its massive mountains above, its coral reefs below, beckons to all. The soul-stirring strains of its song, are gently whispered like the call of the Pied Piper coaxing all to its shores. They hear its summons and they obey. They cross the highest mountains and sail the seven seas to find that magic place simply known as "Sharm." Beneath the blue skies of Egypt's wondrous sea resort lies "Sharm el Sheikh." There they find the happiness their hearts desire, the repose their bodies crave, the euphoria their spirits yearn.
Seduced by its fresh breezes and swaying palms, were world leaders and heads of state such as Bill Clinton, George Bush, Tony Blair, and Nicholas Sarkozy. First they come for business, and then they return for pleasure - pure, pristine, plentiful pleasure. Tales of the Blairs dancing the night away during a recent Christmas Holiday are now part of Sharm's legendary lore. They come from all walks of life, from the Arab world, Europe, the Far East, South America, and North America. They are confident that at Sharm, they will experience a supreme moment in their lives, for this is vacation heaven. They come to toast their bodies under the blazing reddish sun and with its stunning underwater scenery, they indulge in every water sport known to man. They come to sail, to parasail, to snorkel, to scuba-dive, to windsurf, to canoe, to golf, to bowl, to ride horses, and to bungee- jump. They can even ice-skate. They come with their children to enjoy multiple amenities on a reasonable family budget. They come to attend international conferences held at their state-of-the-art Congress Center, where politicos and moguls mingle work with play. Sharm is everything for everyone.
Last month, the World Economic Forum chose Sharm as its most desired meeting place amidst its dazzling 250 coral reefs housing more than 1000 species of fish. It has earned the name "The City of Peace," because of the many "peace" conferences, so far futile, held between the Palestinians and Israelis. The magic of Sharm may still fulfil the dream of peace that has eluded us so far. If any place can cast a magic spell, surely it is that Sinai piece of heaven, we call Sharm.
It was quite astounding to discover how famous Sharm has become in just a few short years. Everyone I know outside Egypt is heading for Sharm at one time or another. You read about it in foreign newspapers and magazines. You see pictures of famous models shot on location at its many picturesque bays. You hear its name on the many TV news outlets. They even pronounce it correctly, as it is now ranked as #3 among the world's most famous resorts.
The site of Sharm el Sheikh was first seen on a Spanish map as early as 1762. It is situated on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula on the coastal strip between the Red Seas and Mount Sinai. Once upon a time this was a lazy sleepy village, perched high on a promontory overlooking Ras el Nasrani (Straits of Tiran) at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba,. Its strategic location led to its transformation into a major port for the Egyptian Navy. During the 1956 conflict, it was captured by Israel, but promptly returned in 1957. Permanently under Egyptian control since the Egyptian/Israeli Peace Treaty of 1979 Sharm began to blossom like a maiden discovering her own beauty. Her constant dry and temperate climate divided her year into two seasons, Spring and Summer.
They call it Egypt's Red Sea Riviera, yet what Riviera affords such perfect weather, such majestic mountains and valleys, several national parks, and one of the world's greatest tourist attractions -- St Catherine's Monastery, nearby. Hotels and resorts line up the greater resort area from south to north. Its fine bays, Sharm el Maya, Na'ama Bay, Garden Bay, Tiger Bay, and Nabq Bay of Ras el Nasrani, house some of the finest hotels. Every chain hotel you can think of is represented here from the Hiltons to the Marriotts, the Four Seasons, the Hyatts, the Ritz Carltons and the Sheratons, among others. With only 3 resorts in 1982, it reached 92 resorts in 2000, and now boasts 168 with promises of more to come.
One of the earliest establishments there was the Movenpick hotel which hosted the second summit following the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada. Many of their de-luxe rooms are named after the Arab and Israeli leaders who occupied them during the duration of that conference.
The minute you land at the spectacular new airport at Sharm, opened May 2008, you are instantly struck by an air of cosmopolitan bliss. Every nationality, every language, every colour on the planet is there, engaged in discovering the charm of Sharm.
Throughout history, visitors came to marvel at Egypt's many wonders. Today their destination lies far away from the Nile and the Pyramids; those have already been seen or will have to wait for another day. Twenty percent of tourists on international flights come for the sun and fun enveloped in an exotic package of perfection. Sharm may be only one of many colourful Red Sea resorts, but it is the one they are all anxious to discover. It may well be Egypt's other wonder, as appealing, as alluring, as amazing as the face of the Sphinx. This other face of Egypt, offers a whirlpool of heady pleasures, a potent elixir of all possible joys of human existence. With this gushing expression of unabashed pride, should not your next holiday be a feast at Sharm?
Your own special hopes,
Your own special dreams
Bloom on the hillsides
And shine in the streams
Bali Ha'i from South Pacific,
Lyrics by Richard Rogers


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